Coretta Scott King would consider it an affront that Sen. Elizabeth Warren was rebuked on the Senate floor for quoting her letter opposing a federal judgeship for new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the civil rights leader's daughter says.
The Senate's GOP majority voted to silence Warren with a highly unusual rebuke Tuesday as she was reading King's letter. Several male senators then stood up and read from the same letter without drawing objections.
Bernice King, CEO of The King Center in Atlanta, said her mother, the widow of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., would have considered that an "affront to women."
"These actions on our Senate floor reflect the continual blight of a patriarchal order in our nation and world," she said.
In the 1986 letter and statement, King said Sessions' actions as a federal prosecutor in Alabama were "reprehensible" and said he used his office "in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters."
King's letter and statement never appeared in Sessions' hearing record in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions was eventually rejected as a federal judge, but went on to become Alabama's U.S. senator. Sessions was confirmed by the Senate as attorney general on Wednesday.
The NAACP, whose leaders have been arrested protesting Sessions' nomination, said in a statement it would ask Congress to monitor Sessions carefully "to ensure that the senator does what he is supposed to do to protect the vote and to end voter suppression and police brutality."
"Should Sessions prove to be anything but a fair and impartial defender of liberty and justice, our community will hold him fully accountable," National Urban League President Marc H. Morial added.
In her letter, King said a previous appointment kept her from being in Washington personally to speak against Sessions.
"I request that my statement, as well as this letter be made a part of the hearing record," she asked then Senate Judiciary Chairman Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who was an avowed segregationist in his earlier life. She copied in Joe Biden, then Democratic senator from Delaware, who would go on to be vice president under President Barack Obama.
A scan of Sessions' hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee record shows no mention of King's statement, her letter or any indication she opposed Sessions' nomination as a federal judge.
Jim Manley, a Democratic consultant and former top Senate aide, called it "unusual" that the letter would not be included. "I think it probably highlights what a flashpoint racial politics played in Sen. Sessions' nomination years ago," Manley said.
But Thaddeus Strom, former Thurmond chief of staff and chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, attributed the absence to a "clerical error."
"Certainly it wasn't by design," Strom said. "It's a perfunctory matter to include letters and statements in support and opposition to nominees and these are often submitted by senators on the committee during the hearing. Counsel for Republicans and Democrats would have reviewed the record before it was final and in this instance it appears the ball was dropped."
There was likely nothing nefarious about the letter not being included in the record, added Armstrong Williams, a former Thurmond staffer. There was no hostility between Thurmond and King during that period, said Williams, who has a photo of himself, King and Thurmond together.
While he did not remember what happened with the Sessions letter, Williams said he remembered Mrs. King successfully lobbying Thurmond to keep federal funding for the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, and them sitting together at then-President George H.W. Bush's inauguration.
"Mrs. King came to the conclusion that people could change, and it started with Senator Thurmond," Williams said.
King, in her statement, pointed to Sessions' prosecution of three black Alabama voting rights activists as why he should not be a federal judge. "Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960s," King wrote.
Blacks had learned to use the absentee voting rules and were teaching others, which was upsetting those who feared African-American political power, she said.